January 22, 2013
Cumulus Media has certainly been in the eye of radio's constant hurricane lately. There have been long-standing rumors that it's interested in more station wheeling-and-dealing (recent press reports cite the alleged availability of CBS Radio stations). That may or may not be true, but what is undeniably real is the first Country radio station in New York City in nearly two decades.
Yesterday (1/21), Cumulus flipped what was once WFME to WRXP to Country WNSH "NASH FM" ... and it's already apparent that the NASH FM brand will not be confined to the Big Apple. Cumulus Media EVP/COO John Dickey took a few minutes out of his obviously hectic day to offer some more details on the big flip, to ALL ACCESS.
It has been almost 20 years since New York City has had a full-blown Country station, why do you feel like now was the time for 94.7 NASH FM "America's Country Station" to launch?
We appreciate how far Country has come in the last 20 years. Back in late '80s and early '90s, before Garth made the cover of "Time" and really changed the face of everything, people were afraid of using the connotation of "Country Radio." We've come miles and miles in the last 20 years.
The format today is probably as mainstream and mass appeal as any format out there. It's one of the largest cuming, and the format sells a lot of concert tickets and T-shirts. Its artists have crossed over not only in terms of airplay on Top 40 and other formats, but into the pop culture.
You're seeing mass-appeal exposure for Country artists on TV and in movies. When you've got iconic figures in Country, front and center on TV shows with Blake Shelton and Keith Urban, and with Tim McGraw crossing into movies, you have got an entertainment juggernaut - a mass-appeal lifestyle-driven, impactful, large-scale format. All of those things are pointing toward the obvious reason why we launched a Country station in New York City. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that nobody else was doing it here.
Did you seriously consider other formats before you ultimately chose Country?
When you make sizable investment like this, you do your homework, so we did considerable research. That's an important component of our company. We have deep roots in market research, so while there were lots of considerations that went into this decision, it became obvious, once all things were considered, that Country would give us the best market opportunity.
How has the station been welcomed by the advertising community so far?
As all your readers can appreciate, the phones don't ring all the time. You have to pick them up and dial out, too. With that said, we've been overwhelmed by the amount of excitement and support from the ad community early in only our second full day. We're very excited about the positive traction, which is a testament to how popular the format is. Buyers love another vehicle to reach a very desirable demo - and that's women 25-54 -- in a format they also happen to listen to and favor. All those things are coming into play.
What's Nashville's reaction been like so far? And what role will the labels play in 94.7 NASH FM's growth?
You'll have to talk to Nashville to answer that. As a matter of course, we don't conceive our business plans off what Nashville is doing, what L.A. or New York are doing, or any other place.
I would suspect that they're very excited. I know the Country community has been trying for years to get back into the biggest media market in the world. Country radio certainly deserves to be here; I would hope that they'd be thrilled over moon about this.
There's going to be a lot of good opportunities for NASH FM to partner strongly with labels and their artists, who are only going to grow as a result of the station's debut. We're looking forward to that and to make great strides in tying in with concerts and other events. A great indication of Country's appeal here is Jason Aldean's Madison Square Garden Show, which sold out 10 minutes after it was announced. Ironically, our station is at 2 Penn, which is right by Madison Square Garden.
The Wall Street Journal just reported that NASH FM is the start of a national brand that would be duplicated at other Cumulus Country stations and other media. When do you expect be the future station flips to occur?
I will say this: NASH FM is a brand that is going to be sort of an umbrella for our continued push into a very large and desirable advertising segment, a lifestyle-driven segment that is Country. We've got the largest distribution platform reach in the country today, with 83-84 Country stations, including New York. We have made it clear that we're going to serve a very large segment of the public; some estimates are north of 50 million people being Country fans - and that number could be larger than that. We feel Country is very underserved in all media ... not just radio, but TV, print and digitally. Stay tuned and watch!
So how will 94.7 NASH FM differ from other Cumulus Country stations?
NASH FM is a New York Country radio station. Right now, it's probably a bit more current-based than most of our Country stations, but that's by design. This station is built to be very unique in its own regard. We've got a jingle package for NASH FM that has never been heard on any other station in the world - and it was produced by a company that had never done jingles for radio. One of the neat things about planning for NASH FM is doing things like that. We're doing things to live up to our positioner as "America's Country Station."
Have you figured out how much Gold to play at WNSH, considering New York City hasn't had a Country station for so long?
We do play some gold on the station, but in this case we've got a format of music that has not been very exposed in this market. There's no fear of these current records being burned. That gives us a lot of opportunity to showcase the depth of the format and the stars of the format -- and we're going to do that. People are going to enjoy what they hear, because we're bringing the full flavor Country today to New York.
How do you see NASH FM's uniqueness in terms of a programming - will it be a hybrid of the format or just more mainstream?
It's going to be a contemporary current-driven Country station. There's nothing magical or different, so to speak, in terms of our approach. We're not trying to blend country with rock or folk or anything else. The artists in this format and the current nature of the programming allows this format grow and be mass appeal. Country has a great, deep bench of artists; and NASH FM is going to reflect that for this market. We're going to drive this truck right down the middle of the highway and become a huge sounding Country station. The aim of everything we do here is to live up to our billing as "America's Country Station." As the station matures, we'll fill it out over a course time with talent and a morning show that everyone can appreciate.
Speaking of staffing, just when do you plan on announcing the programming personnel and on-air staff?
Stay tuned to all of that that. It will happen in the course of time. Right now we're just excited to bring to New York all these great stars. We've got some fun stuff planned around our debut coming up in the month of February. Obviously Jason Alden's show, being in our backyard, will be a lot of fun to tie into.
Will you have a street team in place to cover a huge geographic region like the Tri-State area?
Again, I go back to living up to our billing as "America's Country Station." That should answer all those questions about what we'll do to become that.
Do you have concerns about signal strength, particularly when it relates to Long Island?
Anybody who asks that question will always get the same basic answer. We could have our tower on top of the Empire State Building, and we'd still love to have a better signal. You can never have too good a signal. However, we do feel we have a very good signal; it's a full-market signal that can attract ratings.
Finally, can you respond to the recent reports that Cumulus is currently looking into acquiring CBS Radio's radio group?
I can't comment on any of that stuff. That's not the focus of what Cumulus is doing right now. This is a very historic week for Country radio and for Cumulus. We're very excited about launching NASH FM and we're thrilled about the interest it has generated among the listeners in New York and the coverage from the press. Just stay tuned; there's a lot more to come.